IN THEIR draft evaluations, do the Eagles give too much weight to the havoc players raise off the field, and too little to the problems they cause opponents on the field?
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has talked more than once this offseason about making changes in the team's assessment process, in light of the fact that the Birds' recent drafts haven't been the NFL's best, and the team missed the playoffs last season. Roseman spoke with reporters again Thursday, in his annual predraft session, and he sounded the theme again. Roseman talked at length about one aspect of this, "an evolution of the [Eagles'] thinking on character."
Fans will want to fast-forward to the assumption he was talking primarily about the decision 2 years ago to move up in the draft and take defensive end Brandon Graham 13th overall, leaving DE Jason Pierre-Paul for the Giants, two picks later. Though the Eagles say they still have high hopes for Graham, who spent last season working through his return from ACL surgery, there seems little chance Graham will ever deliver the impact Pierre-Paul had in 2011, when he notched 16 1/2 sacks and a Pro Bowl berth while helping lead the Giants to the Super Bowl title.
Graham was a 4-year player at Michigan, two-time MVP, who won a bunch of awards and made most All-America teams. Pierre-Paul drifted through two junior colleges, then played 1 year at South Florida before opting to turn pro a year early. Off the field, Graham was considered an ispiration to his inner-city Detroit neighborhood; there were rumors before the draft that teams were concerned about Pierre-Paul's off-the-field life, rumors that were never very specific.
It isn't clear that is exactly the kind of "character" Roseman was talking about, or all he was talking about, but that draft decision probably figures somewhere in the reassessment mix. You can add to that pile of debatable decisions, among others, defensive tackle Trevor Laws, who like Graham was a standout of Senior Bowl week. Laws was a bright, outgoing fellow, a state high school wrestling champion in Minnesota and a pillar of the Notre Dame team, but he never won a starting job with the Eagles after being tabbed as the team's first pick, in the second round, 47th overall, in 2008. Laws recently signed with the Rams as a free agent.
When Tom Heckert had Roseman's job, Heckert once said the hardest thing to evaluate is how much a guy wants it, whether he will be the kind of player who is consumed by the game and by trying to improve, or whether he is playing because he can make more money from football than from anything else he's qualified to do. Fact is, sometimes the smart, model-citizen guys aren't the ones who live for football. They tend to have other interests.
Of course, the emphasis on "character" isn't the only thing the Eagles have reassessed. Roseman said yesterday that when he took over the draft process from Heckert 2 years ago, "we thought we were just putting a little bit of weight on the All-Star games and the combine, [but] maybe we put a little more weight than we wanted to on those two things." He said coaches start looking at players after the season, so their evaluations tend to be off what happens then, that he might have been "naive to that part of it the last couple of years." Roseman said he has learned to trust game tape over postseason assessments, that there have been only "tweaks" to the Birds' draft board since January.
This year, one of the intriguing "character" situations involves North Alabama corner Janoris Jenkins, a top-flight talent who was dismissed from the Florida team after failing a drug test and being arrested after a bar fight. The Eagles recently hosted Jenkins for a visit.
"I can't tell you that we got a clear-cut answer on it, but we've tried to make up some tiers of things that are acceptable and unacceptable," Roseman said. "This has come through trial and error on some of the guys that we've gone through and been right or wrong or about . . . It's a very thin line on trying to figure that out, and being right. Some of the guys that you would have met with and looked at their background and said there's no chance they'll be successful in the NFL . . . they end up doing really well, and there's guys that you think are going to be great guys and they don't end up being as great as guys as you think. You're still dealing with really young people, and people trying to find themselves, and that's what makes the draft so tricky and so interesting.
"It's tricky to really say that you know exactly everything about the players, the person, when they have some things in their background. So, for us, we're trying to make some rules, some limitations that are dealbreakers for us. Without going into specifics, I think there are things that we're uncomfortable bringing into our building, things that we would be uncomfortable proposing to ownership about the guy . . . And the same time, we're trying to be less judgmental about young men in their 20s in college living a college lifestyle."
Roseman spoke of feeling he needs to determine that a player hasn't been "doing anything that was going to limit their potential in the NFL, or affect their ability to be a good teammate, or that they're a bad person and they're going to make bad decisions and put your organization at risk."
Talent, obviously, makes a difference in how much risk you're willing to take on.
"You're spending a lot more time diving into the issues of a talented player than you are of a guy who's on the border of being drafted," Roseman said.